The Bug Hotel is open for business.
Sheryl Williams, a Travis County master gardener, wanted to attract butterflies, bees and other beneficial insects to her yard, so she built nice accommodations for them.
“I need pollinators, and I need predators,” she says. “I need them eating caterpillars and aphids.”
Williams, who has big vegetable gardens at her Wells Branch-area home, got the idea from a photo of a garden in Paris, and after she had two Arizona ash trees removed from her property, she set aside some of the wood for her project.
She researched what might appeal to the lacewings, ladybugs, bumblebees and others that she wanted to attract, and then, using old shelving, cedar shake siding, and some help, she got to work.
Once she had all her materials ready, it took about four hours to assemble, she says. The hotel is 6 feet tall, with a gable on top that adds another couple feet — a skyscraper to the insects flying by.
It has several “stories,” with amenities to entice different clientele: the bottom floor has a board with an opening in it.
“Bumblebees like to nest in old mouse holes,” she says. “The big hole is simulating a mouse hole.”
Another floor has 4-inch flower containers with coconut fiber to draw in wasps. Another area has boards with slits in it, making nice accommodations for lacewings, Williams says. “They like to nest in crevices.”
She drilled holes in the Arizona ash wood (probably the toughest part of the job) the right size for solitary bees.
All over the hotel, bundles of twigs provide crannies for the bugs to enjoy.
“For ladybugs, what I’m really doing is providing shelter from storms and from winter,” she says.
Hinges on the wooden doors to the bumblebee house and other places allow her to clean it out.
Since the hotel’s grand opening earlier this year, it has had modest occupancy. In the first few months, she had observed wasps “checking out the property.”
In addition, solitary bees, she says, lay eggs and then plug the hole with mud.
“I’ve got about 17 mud plugs,” she says.
Birds like to sit on the roof. Williams says a few neighbors love the hotel, and she was helping a friend to build her own.
She still hopes to draw in the crowds, perhaps doing a little remodeling, too.
“It’s something I can work on all the time,” she says.
These bombs help things grow
Maybe a Bug Motel feels daunting, but here’s another project you can do, especially with children that have some time on their hands this summer.
Make“seed bombs” that could eventually turn into an explosion of flowers wherever they land. These “bombs” contain mixtures of seeds dried into compost and clay. Then, with a little care, the whole thing might burst with beauty.
The seed bomb, also called a seed ball, “functions to protect the seeds from heat, being blown away, or being eaten by birds, insects or other animals until there is sufficient rain to melt the clay and allow the seeds to germinate,” according to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department website.
Various methods of making seed bombs can be found online. We found recipes at the Parks & Wildlife’s site for Texas Junior Naturalists, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and the Offbeat Bride’s web page on creating party favors.
Historically, the idea of seed bombs has been associated with the “green guerrilla” movement that started in the 1970s, as groups sought to plant in decayed, vacant urban areas. The methods for making seed bombs have evolved; some practices back then included filling up balloons or emptied egg shells with seeds, compost or other various materials, according to Richard Reynolds’ book “On Guerrilla Gardening.”
One Central Austin group earlier this year made a large batch of seed bombs as a way to raise donations for a park project. The Friends of Brentwood Park used a ratio of 3 parts compost, 3 parts red clay and 1 part seeds, says group member Emily Wilson.
“It’s all a grand experiment,” she says. The project helped raise donations for a trail at Brentwood Park.
To make the seed bombs, they mixed the clay and organic compost with water until the consistency was “like cookie dough, moist but not sloppy wet,” Wilson says. They added a mixture of dozens of kinds of seeds for native grasses and wildflowers. Then they rolled it flat with a rolling pin.
“We used compost on the table like flour,” she says. “So when we used the rolling pin, it wouldn’t stick to it.” They sprinkled more seeds on top for decoration, and cut out heart shapes with cookie cutters.
After several days in the sun, the seed bombs dried thoroughly; then they were ready for action.
Theoretically, you could just throw the clods of seeds on the ground and let them grow, but odds for success improve if you loosen some dirt around it, Wilson says. (The clay keeps the birds from eating the seeds, she says.) And, of course, they’ll need some water.
“Something will probably thrive and grow,” Wilson says. “It’ll be a surprise.”
Seed bombs can be purchased, as well. GreenAid, based in California, for example, has gumball-like vending machines for selling seed bombs. For 50 cents, a seed bomb, about the size of a walnut, can be purchased at such a machine at Holy Grounds, a cafe and shop at St. David’s Episcopal Church in downtown Austin. The shop also sells sling shots for lobbing the seed bombs.
These vending machines also can be found in San Antonio, Houston, Fort Worth and as far away as Austria and Greece, according to a map at GreenAid’s Website.
“Seeds will remain dormant until their environmental needs are met with these factors: water, correct temperature and a good position to grow in,” according to Josie Jeffery’s book “Seedbombs: Going Wild With Flowers.”